Old-timers still remember when this ancestral residence of an eminent family of Delhi gharana musicians contained wealth of both the material and artistic kind

Yesteryear evenings at Mausiqi Manzil in Suiwalan (revived by a nostalgic reference last week) are now the stuff of legends that continue to haunt old-timers. Like Mausiqi Manzil, there was a Tansukh Manzil in Chandni Mahal, but it has not survived. In Kucha Pandit is Ali Manzil, where the late President Fakruddin Ali Ahmed’s sister used to stay. The family also owned Hamdard Manzil in Lal Kuan. Dr. A. Ali of Hamdard University recalls that there were two “tard” palm trees in Ali Manzil, one of which got uprooted in a storm. His recollection, however, is that Ahmed Ali wrote “Twilight in Delhi” at Ali Manzil and the description of the house of the novel’s hero, Mir Nihal, was actually based on it.

Mausiqi Manzil, that predated the Urdu Ghar built by Khwaja Hasan Nizami in Macchliwalan market of Jama Masjid, came up during the reign of Akbar Shah Sani about the time that Phool Walon-ki-Sair was started to mark the return of his son Prince Jahangir from exile in Allahabad, after being pardoned by the British for firing at their Resident, Seton, at the Red Fort. The present occupant of Mausiqi Manzil, Ustad Iqbal Ahmed Khan, is away on his annual lecture visit to the U.S., but an old Delhiwallah, Haji Faiyazuddin, remembers that Iqbal Sahib’s grandfather, Ustad Chand Khan and his brothers, Usman Khan and Jahan Khan, were regular visitors to Haji Hotel, opposite the Jama Masjid. They were friends of Faiyazuddin’s father, Haji Zahooruddin who often attended the music programmes at Mausiqi Manzil.

Chand Khan was a celebrated classical singer of medium height and build, fond of eating paan and good food. His close companions included Ustad Sadiq Ali Khan of Rampur, the been player at the court of the Nawab there, and Hafiz Ali Khan, father of Ustad Ajmad Ali Khan, who used to come from Gwalior to regale the audience with his sarod recital. Also from that place came Ustad Nisar Ahmed Khan, and from Lahore Bade Ghulam Ali Khan who sang the lilting raga for Salim and Anarkali on a romantic night at Fatehpur Sikri in the film Mughal-e-Azam.

When the rRajwadas or states ruled by the princes and nawabs were merged into the Indian Union by Sardar Patel, classical singers attached to those courts lost their patrons — and as a result, their monthly income. Then Naina Devi, with the help of Jawaharlal Nehru, set up Bharatiya Kala Kendra in Pusa Road, which later moved to Mandi House. The Kendra became a good meeting place for the dislodged singers. It continues to remain such a platform even now.

Haji Mian, who heard Ustad Chand Khan sing, says that he was born at about the same time as Nehru and traced his descent from a family of musicians who sang at the court of Altamash, successor of Qutubuddin Aibak, the first ruler of the Slave dynasty and earlier regent of Mohammad Ghori. By that contention the original “Mausiqi Manzil” of the ancestors of Chand Khan must have been in Mehrauli, from where Altamash and his successors ruled. It moved to Shahjanabad some 500 years later.

Imagine the stern Altamash or Illtutmish, who left his kingdom not to his sons but daughter Razia Sultan, listening to the classical Khan singers and sometimes swaying to the taan and the taap, forgetting the cares of State and the many problems that beset him, including the invasion of Chingez Khan and his Mongol hordes. But luckily they passed like a storm through Punjab, and Altamash did not have to face them. It is interesting to note that the grave of Razia and her sister Sazia behind Turkman Gate are not far from Mausiqi Manzil. What a link (by coincidence) with medieval times when the fortunes of the ancestors of Chand Khan were still in their formative stage !

Listening to a soiree at Mausiqi Manzil, when the rains had cooled Delhi, and the intoxicating Sawan breezes were merging with the mesmerising voice of Chand Khan, was a treat that the surviving oldies have not yet forgotten. Following up, his brothers, Usman Khan and Jahan Khan, sang one after the other to make the soiree a heady mix of classical and neo-classical nuggets. Such programmes attracted the cream of society then, and the hoi polloi had to be content with the fast-emerging musical films that resounded to the magical voice of Saigal, himself an occasional visitor to Mausiqi Manzil. Gohar Jan, however, had ended her career by then, but Begum Akhtar often sang there since she was a disciple of Chand Khan.

Mausiqi Manzil now is in a dilapidated condition, though students of music continue to be trained there, with makeshift boarding and lodging arrangements, thanks to Ustad Iqbal Khan and his affectionate begum. The present scion, who has spread the fame of his Delhi gharana abroad, still holds a 10-day programme in the month of Muhurram as part of the family tradition. Next time if you happen to pass by Mausiqi Manzil on a pleasant evening, don’t be surprised to hear heavenly taans emanating from it, for after all it is Delhi’s fabled “House of Music”!